I just had this discussion with my Index Data colleagues, and though the conclusion was worth writing up here. My boss, Sebastian Hammer, asked “So what is librarianship about in the 201Xs ?”
I gave three answers: one smart-alec, one practical, and one philosophical.
1. It’s up to librarians to find something for librarianship to be about.
2. Books on paper are dead or dying, or at least becoming a minority interest like veteran aircraft. But librarianship was only ever coincidentally about books. It’s really about information. 201X librarianship has to be about making ways for people to find and access the information they need.
3. In the long term, librarianship is doomed, because we are moving all the while towards having computers solve the problems that it addresses for us. The problem of finding information is being solved by search engines such as Google and by communities such as Reddit. The problem of actually getting hold of that information is being solved by the existence of e-books, by the quick growth of open access, and by piracy. The role of librarians is to do those parts of information-finding that computers can’t yet do; but computers are doing increasingly more, so the job is necessarily shrinking.
And I am OK with that. The bottom line is that libraries arose as a way to solve the problem that getting hold of information is hard. Now that the problem is going away, the solution will, too. That’s sad for individual librarians, who will need to find new jobs. But it’s good for librarianship. Because in the end, what it means is that libraries have won.